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Old 7th December 2007, 11:02   #1
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Default Manchester United replicate 1958 kit to mark game of respect for Busby Babes

Manchester United replicate 1958 kit to mark game of respect for Busby Babes

Oliver Kay The Times
December 7, 2007

Not for the first time, Manchester United are making plans to wear a new kit, but, if such an announcement would usually rile parents from Stretford to St Ives and probably all the way to Singapore, this time it is different. The kit in question, to be worn in the derby match against Manchester City in February, will feature old-style baggy shirts and shorts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster and, significantly, the club insist that neither they nor anyone else will profit financially from the exercise.

The club’s announcement late last night came almost two years after it set up a group to explore how to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy on February 6, 1958, in which eight United players died. There will also be a memorial service held on the anniversary and a free, permanent exhibition in the tunnel under the South Stand at Old Trafford, which is to be renamed the Munich Tunnel. But it is the decision to wear a 1950s-style kit that will help to capture the public imagination and convey the enormity of the disaster to generations of supporters – and perhaps also players – on whom its full significance might otherwise be lost.

Strictly speaking, wearing a different kit on a one-off basis is against Premier League regulations – particularly as the kit will not bear the league’s logo, names or squad numbers – but, after several months of discussions, United were finally granted permission to proceed. They also had to seek permission from Nike, their kit manufacturer, and AIG, their main sponsor, neither of whom will be represented on the retro kit. Nike have agreed to make the kit, but it will not be sold either beforehand or afterwards, with the club’s idea that all of those worn in the derby match on February 9 will be donated to assorted guests, including the survivors of the tragedy and the families of the victims.

The desire to avoid profiteering is such that designs for the kit are to be kept secret, with the club declining to say whether it will feature the original badge or the “phoenix” design that was worn at the FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers in May 1958 as a mark of the club’s rebirth. But another striking aspect of the commemorations is an eagerness to include City and indeed the entire city. With a derby match falling closest to the anniversary, there were initial fears that any tribute, including the traditional minute’s silence, could be disrupted by opposition supporters, but the clubs have cooperated extensively over the plans, with City planning their own tribute, which may see a black arm-band embroidered into the kits that their team wear on the day.

Alistair Mackintosh, the City chief executive, has discussed the plans with David Gill, his United counterpart, with City now looking to convey the message to their supporters that it was Manchester’s tragedy and not simply United’s. Less than two years ago, City felt compelled to launch a campaign designed to eradicate chants about the disaster, with a letter sent to their official supporters’ groups, but the club hope that the involvement of Sven-Gö ran Eriksson, their manager, will help to ensure that some of the unpleasantness is left behind.

“The Munich air crash was not just about Manchester United,” Gill said in a statement last night. “It devastated the lives of the 23 families of those who died, as well as those who never played again and united a city in grief. Those who are able to remember say it was Manchester’s ‘Kennedy moment’. Everyone knows where they were when the terrible news came through.

“It is a heavy responsibility that those of us who work for this great club and who live and work in this magnificent city have to show respect, admiration and regret over that loss some five decades ago. I hope the exhibition will enable generations of fans to understand the place Sir Matt Busby [the manager of the 1958 team] and his teams have in the Club’s history.

Even MUTV will broadcast its content free of charge on February 6, the day of the memorial service at Old Trafford. It all begged the question about what the Glazers, the club’s American owners, would make of it. The word was that they were “delighted” by the plans. So they should be. Sometimes sport offers the opportunity to do more than just the bottom line. For Manchester United, for the whole of Manchester, for the whole of football, this is about paying respects.

Survivors prepare to remember night of tragedy

— The Munich air disaster took place on February 6, 1958, when British European Airways flight 609, carrying Manchester United players and staff back from their European Cup match away to Red Star Belgrade, crashed on its third attempt to take off in poor weather at Munich-Riem airport, where it had stopped to refuel.

— Twenty-three of the 44 passengers were killed, including eight United players (Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan), three club officials, eight journalists (including Frank Swift, the former Manchester City and England goalkeeper), a supporter, the co-pilot, a steward and a travel agent. Edwards survived the initial crash, but died of his injuries in hospital 15 days later.

— Two of the survivors, Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, had their careers curtailed by injuries suffered in the disaster.

Matt Busby, then team manager, was also seriously injured and was twice read the last rites in hospital, but he eventually recovered and led a rebuilt United team to the European Cup in 1968, with two of his fellow survivors, Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes, in the team that beat Benfica at Wembley.

— Along with the families of the victims, the five surviving players (Charlton, Foulkes, Harry Gregg, Kenny Morgans and Albert Scanlon) will be involved in the tributes to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster in February.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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